Istanbul is a city of contrasts, placed on two continents, with an European side and an Asian side divided by the Bosporus strait.
We enjoyed the European side for its many tourist attractions, interesting mosques, architecture and easy to navigate streets. As for the Asian side, we appreciated it for the nice narrow streets and general architecture. Unfortunately, in two days we didn’t have enough time to explore both sides, so we focused more on the European one that had the tourist attractions: Hagia Sofia (considered the eighth wonder of the world), Sultan Ahmet Mosque (or the blue mosque), grand bazaar, spice bazaar, hippodrome of Constantinople, many other mosques, an interesting cemetery with a restaurant inside, pottery shop & textile shop with live demonstrations (Andra participated in both ways at a demonstration, first in the audience and then on the wheel).
We were hosted on the Asian side by a wonderful Turkish couple.
From them we learned many interesting things about the Turkish language, culture, religion, differences & connections between our two countries (it seems we have many words in common – thanks to the ottoman influence in the past).
They took care of us exactly as we take care of our couchsurfers, so we felt just like home in their nice apartment. Comfortable couch, pink bedsheets 🙂 (we have some pink slippers for our couchsurfers), wi-fi and two lovely turtles that I enjoy feeding.
It was great to have Turkish tea and coffee together; the tea glasses were interesting and the coffee came accompanied by an eatable spoon made out of chocolate!
Now, some interesting facts.
– We arrived in Istanbul around 5:30 in the morning and decided to visit until the open hour for the exchange office and public transportation. It was the best decision we took (we could have waited in the tourist agency instead, and get bored to death). It was great especially because there were just a few people outside at that hour, and we could see the hippodrome and Blue Mosque in a quiet (almost serene) atmosphere. The first time we entered the mosque, it was such an impressive sight, almost breathtaking. The silence and the echo were unbelievable.
It is was far less nice to visit the same places again, with a lot of crowd around us. So, we’ll repeat this experience with visiting at early hours, as often as we can – for the rest of the trip.
– Our daily budget was around 15 euros per day, for each of us, enough for free sightseeing and eating. As said in the beginning, Istanbul is a city of contrasts: clothes are a lot cheaper than in Romania (in bazars and some shops), food prices depend on the location (you can eat plentiful traditional meals from kiosks; restaurants can be really expensive though – especially near tourist attractions), transportation is quite expensive (1$ per ticket) and there’s no way around it; the city is huge and you can’t walk everywhere.
It’s best to choose each day an area with many concentrated attractions, rather than jumping from one place to another, as it will cost you also a lot of time beside money.
– Turkish hospitality is amazing. You won’t experience it everywhere, but when you encounter it, it is overwhelming. There was this bakery boss that started asking us where are we from (we were just searching for corn flower to prepare “mamaliga”/polenta for our hosts), then he offered free cookies. The next day we passed by his place, he saw us and yelled “ce faci”/”how are you” in Romanian, then gave us other free bakery specialties – despite our initial refusal. He wanted to know many things about us: where we work, if we’re married (we did a funny head salute when he heard that we are together for 7 years). The next day when we went to offer him a small pottery pot, we found out from his workers that he told everyone about us 🙂
– Call for prayers from all mosques. This thing happens 5 times per day and it can be easily heard inside the houses. The mosques have really loud speakers; the locals say they are too loud, but we liked it. They don’t start all in the same time, but random, and the sounds build up in the first minutes, then slowly fades away. It feels relaxing every time..
I intended to upload more photos, but the internet here is incredibly slow, almost the same in Istanbul. So, I will never complain about internet speed in Romania 🙂
You can see more photos here: http://picasaweb.google.com/IonRazvanCiuca/Istanbul?feat=directlink
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